Libraries Society of North America 32nd Annual
Roosevelt Hotel, New
York, NY - April
The Tall Office Building Reconsidered: the 21st Century Skyscraper
Paul Glassman and Leslie
Sarah Bradford Landau,
Professor of Fine Arts, New York University
Architect and Visiting Assistant Professor, New York Institute of Technology
Nina Rappaport, Editor
of Constructs, the Journal of the Yale School of Architecture
Alexander D. Garvin, former Vice President for
Planning, Design and Development, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation,
Adjunct Professor of Planning, Yale University
Rebecca Price, Art,
Architecture & Engineering Library, University
Paul Glassman introduced the session by expressing his hope that
this session would give us a forum in which to re-evaluate the skyscraper as a
building type in this second century of its existence. He reminded us of its origins in both Chicago and New York City and the importance of technological advances such as the elevator
and structural steel, which allowed for ever taller buildings. The rivalry between Chicago and New York spurred
tremendous growth (no pun intended) in the building type, and also established
its American national identity early on.
The four speakers
provided a rounded tour of the current state of the high-rise building,
particularly in the United States. The first speaker
provided an historical foundation, the second and third speakers looked to
current trends in high-rise design and construction, and the final speaker
talked about the real examples of plans for the World Trade Center site in New York.
Sarah Landau, co-author
of Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913, provided an historical
tour of the creation of the skyscraper building type. In the later decades of the 19th
century, the skyscraper was a uniquely American phenomenon. Several factors led to its speedy adoption
and ensuing success: technological changes in construction, the perceived
prestige of spires and towers by the business community, the elevator, the
development of the iron and steel frame, and developments in fireproofing
Some notable points in
the development of the building type in NYC were the Equitable Building on Broadway (1868-70), which housed the first elevator
(steam-powered) to climb its eight-story frame.
Close on its heels was the construction of the Western Union Building at Broadway and Day Streets (1872-75). Its ten stories climbed 230 feet and it was
serviced by a hydraulic-gravity elevator.
This was soon followed by the construction of the Tribune Building (1873-75), which rose 260 feet (ten stories). The competition for height in New York was spurred on
by developments in Chicago, where in the 1880's the skeleton frame was adopted.
The Fuller or Flatiron
Building (1901-03), built by Daniel Burnham of Chicago, introduced the
column-type high-rise: a flat-topped construction with a strong cornice marking
the upper reaches of the structure. In
1911 Cass Gilbert designed the Woolworth Building, the world's tallest at the time, rising 792 feet. This so-named
"cathedral of commerce," spanned 30 stories, plus a 25-story tower,
plus 5 stories housed within the roof.
26 electric Otis elevators serviced the building. More significant than the height of the
building, was that it heralded a new economic model. Built on speculation, the offices for rent
were formed by the spacing of the steel columns. To entice the renter, the u-shaped plan
brought light into the center of the building and sumptuous decorations lent an
air of sophistication and wealth. The Woolworth Building maintained its supreme position until the construction of the Chrysler Building in 1929, a new prototype for the high-rise.
Landau concluded with a
telling comparison of views of Manhattan in 1865 and
1914, showing the complete transformation of the city by the overwhelming
adoption of the skyscraper.
remarks focused on changes that we are just beginning to see in the 21st
century skyscraper, particularly changes related to the environment of the
building: its sustainability, the idea of building as organism, and the living
environment that the building creates.
He noted that over the past century there have been significant
technological changes to the skyscraper, but little change to its basic idea,
composition and spatial development. In
addition, there has been very little change to the way people interact with the
skyscraper. Environmental technology, in
particular, was applied to the structure in an attempt to create an artificial
environment. Although the idea of environmentally sound spaces has been brought
into discussions of other building types, it only recently that it has been
brought into thinking about the skyscraper.
cited Ken Yeang's books (The Green
Skyscraper: the basis for designing sustainable intensive
buildings  and Reinventing the skyscraper: a vertical
theory of urban design ), in which he presents his idea of vertical urban design as a new way of understanding the
size, scale and microcosm of the skyscraper.
Yeang advocates the vertical integration of green into the skyscraper,
not just at ground level and not just in horizontal layers. He argues that the skyscraper should act not
just as a symbol or object in space, but as an organic system. The resulting designs include roof terraces
that emerge within the building, and a new spatial type that is highly
site-specific in terms of physical site, environment (light, ventilation) and
responds to its site in environmental ways (light, ventilation, etc.). This requires a new way of thinking about how
we interact with buildings.
An example of this
thinking is seen in Norman Foster's Commerzbank in Frankfurt am Main, a
building noted for its efforts toward sustainability. The building is cutaway at points to allow
gardens to float at various points in the building. These gardens become "exterior"
spaces area arranged vertically throughout the building. This marks a revolutionary understanding of
how the environment relates to a building and how people use a building. Professor Altwicker argued that with green spaces
arranged throughout the vertical space of the building there is no need for
people to reconnect with earth (the ground).
He concluded his remarks
by looking at the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill proposal for the World Trade Center site, in which
organic growth is emphasized with raised gardens integrated across the
buildings from one to the next. The
skyscraper is not just an object on the skyline, but is becoming an integrated,
Ms. Rappaport continued
on the green theme of sustainability introduced by Professor Altwicker. She opened her remarks with the statement
that there is a human need to be comfortable which inevitably requires a
certain control over the environment.
The question is how to create a built environment that is
sustainable. She pointed out that the
high-rise building form is inherently green in that it uses less land than
lower density, horizontal, ground-hogging building forms and thereby encourages
mass transit. When properly designed and
engineered, the building form has even greater potential to be green.
Ms. Rappaport raised the
question of whether green design has an aesthetic. Showing examples from the National Building Museum exhibit “Big
& Green: toward sustainable architecture in the 21st century,”
(2003), Ms. Rappaport presented the developing aesthetic of green tall
buildings. [The exhibit is available
partially online: http://www.nbm.org/Exhibits/current/Big_and_Green.html
(viewed 5/27/04).] The issue faced by contemporary architects is both
technological and aesthetic. In the
1950s and ‘60s air-conditioning was added to skyscrapers in an effort to
improve the interior environment.
Instead we have ended up with “sick building syndrome,” in which
occupants suffer acute health symptoms due to the closed environment, and
buildings require vast amounts of energy to maintain their artificial
New technologies are
emerging to address the energy consumption and inefficiencies of many
buildings, such as advanced glazing, computer-aided energy analysis,
bio-technology, and new materials. In
addition, alternative energy sources are being implemented. Examples include
wind (turbine towers proposed at the World Trade Center site by Richard
Rogers) and photovoltaic windows (Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square), alternative light and air systems, such as double-skin
buildings that contain a layer of air heated by the sun (inspired by termite
mounds of Zimbabwe). Perhaps the most famous
recent example of this is Foster's Swiss Re building in London. Ecosystems are being designed as products of
the building. Contemporary tall buildings are now being designed with sky
gardens, windows that open on the inside.
A radical example of this is seen in MVRDV's proposal for an apartment
building in which trees grow from platforms that stretch out from the building
(an image can be seen at the above referenced link to the "Big &
Green" exhibition). Yeang's Editt Tower proposes the
use of greenery to help cool the building, provide better air quality, and make
use of water recycling. Building is
increasingly seen as an ecological organism.
The culmination of these ideas is seen in MVRDV's building as
"machine of ecology" designed for the Hanover Fair 2000.
processes are also being evaluated in ecological terms. More lightweight materials are in use (e.g.,
carbon, fabric). The nomadic skyscraper
offers another vision of the future of skyscrapers. Rappaport concluded by noting that 'building
green' does offer a new aesthetic. She
paraphrases Richard Rogers statement of his design principles as a fusing of
social, technological, environmental and ecological concerns.
The final speaker of the
session was Alexander Garvin, former Vice President for Planning, Design and
Development, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. He spoke about Lower Manhattan and the planning that
has taken place since September 11, 2001. Lower Manhattan is the third largest downtown in America (after mid-Manhattan and the Loop in Chicago), though 100
years ago it was the largest and 50 years ago it was second. In an effort to stay the seemingly steady
decline by increasing the space available for commerce, there was an attempt in
the 1960s to clear the 'slum' area and replace it with the World Trade Center complex. Garvin remarked that the World Trade Center provided 13
million square feet of space, but that it did nothing to improve Lower Manhattan. This failure occurred because the development
closed off streets and cut itself off from the surrounding community. He noted, however, that Battery City Park had its
beginnings from the landfill from the excavations for the World Trade Center construction. Since the construction of the World Trade Center, there were
other plans to revitalize Lower Manhattan, but nothing came of them.
After the September 11, 2001 attach, there was hope for another tall building and indeed
Libeskind’s proposal, dominated by a tall spire, was chosen. As Professor Garvin noted, the innovation in
the proposal is the wedge of light provided by an opening that Libeskind has
built into the design resulting from the angle of sun coming through voids
where the tall masses of the earlier structures stood. Interesting about the Libeskind plan is that
it attempts to integrate the spaces, and the buildings with the functions of
the place, which was not the case in the earlier towers. Garvin explained that as one will exit from
the subway at Broadway and Fulton (where all the New York City Transit trains
converge), the wedge of light will come into the new station (designed by
The entire plan for the
space is not final, but Professor Garvin felt that the big achievement of the
new plan (as it stands) is the grand piazza adjoining and integrated with the
train terminal. The ‘rebuilding’ of a
tower in the form of a spiral cluster of towers beside a new open space, and he
hopes that there will be a greater integration of the site with the rest of Lower Manhattan. Instead of simply placing boxes onto the
site, there is an attempt to create a place of movement and light, of
integration of function and space and of integration of site with its
surroundings. While there is currently
no connection between the tall towers of Lower Manhattan and the daily
life of the people of Lower Manhattan. The new plan promises to
for images and more information on some of the buildings referred to above and
during the session
Building Museum Exhibit, Big and Green
Hamzah and Yeang website
Development Corp. website
Battery Park City
Daniel Libeskind’s site
with links to text and images of WTC proposal
Question and Answer period
Q1. How public is the ‘public space’ of a skyscraper – in reference
to the garden areas that exist high in the building?
A1. There are three types of space: private, public, and common open space (shared). Professor Garvin pointed out that interior
space will never be public space.
Q2. Are building codes changing to encourage sustainability and
integration of environmental systems rather than application of environmental
systems onto a building?
A2. Professor Altwicker pointed out that the problem is agreeing on
codes. That takes time. But there are changes on the horizon. For example, there is a move to require that
windows be operable in high-rises.
Q3. Are the worst disappointments (re: rebuilding of the World Trade Center site) behind us?
A3. Professor Garvin responded that it will be a very long time
before it is completely built and there will be many conflicts about property
owners rights versus public rights.
There is no mechanism currently to resolve conflicts or to enforce
Q4. Maryly Snow pointed out the difficulty she’s had in getting
high-resolution images of all the design proposals and competition
drawings. The finalists are up and
available, but not all 300 submissions.
She would like them available for scholarly archiving and wonders if the
Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will release them.
A4. Professor Garvin said he doesn’t know. He said there were not 300 submissions. There were over 5000 submissions for the
memorial, but not for the rebuilding of the entire site. He noted the difficulty in building around a
memorial, citing a singularly successful example in the Galleria in Milan. Garvin
reiterated that there were lots of drawings for memorials, but not for the
rebuilding of the entire site.
Q5. What is the influence of testosterone on the history of
A5. Professor Landau responded saying that it was not testosterone,
but the need to build up on increasingly valuable (expensive) and limited land.
Q6. What is Battery Park City?
A6. Professor Garvin responded that it was the product of an effort
to extend the life of Lower
Manhattan to 24 hours/day
by adding housing and other functions.
It was a completely planned ‘New Town.’
There is a North Town and a South Town. South Town is largely finished and North Town is almost finished. (more
about its history can be found at http://www.batteryparkcity.org/timeline.htm) The attempt to provide life to Lower Manhattan did not entirely succeed because of West Street, which bisects Battery Park City from the rest of Lower Manhattan. There were
some plans to put West Street underground, but that hasn’t happened.
Q7. Paul Glassman asked about the comment in March 10, 2003 New Yorker Magazine that the World Trade Center was “one of the more conspicuous mistakes” of the
A7. Professors Garvin and Landau agree that the World Trade Center was the most uninhabitable public space. There were ‘awe-inspiring heights’ but the
towers cast shadows in all the wrong places.
Nonetheless, it was significant for innovations. The downside was that it was completely cut
off from neighboring community and was independent from the rest of the
city. Garvin noted that the importance
of Libeskind’s design is in the relationship of public spaces and in having the
train station above ground.